"We are a psychedelic boy band.... "
Incendiary interview British Sea Power - part two
Incendiary decide it's time to get a little personal and delve into the BSP psyche...
IN: BSP is a classic band, like Kraftwerk; you are a unit, a strong one at that. And you could get away with wearing lippy and rouge on your front cover and yet make banal pop songs in a psychotic way (at this point your interviewer tries to keep from giggling at Hamilton’s varied facial expressions) You could take your ideas to extremes and pull it off. Yet you haven’t as yet had the confidence to do this. What is it with you lot that hasn’t been able to surmount this?
H: It’s a funny thing being in a band you know… just ‘cos of the personalities… it’s always a struggle. The older you get the wiser you get and it’s just a case now of who really cares? That’s how we see it. We’re not gonna be shy anymore! (Laughs) At school I was always a shy boy. At school I couldn’t even talk in class you know, I’d get panic attacks. It’s just the progression into adulthood! But in the same way we’ve never really been scared of dealing with who we are, that’s always been the thing that really impressed me about personalities like Julian Cope or Iggy Pop, fall on your face and not care. We’re not like the rest of the “professionals”!
IN: If it’s not careful I think rock music will commit hari-kari, despite there being so many more chances to do something different nowadays.
H: The new bands are just becoming part of the old bands scene and the old bands come back ‘cos they’re cult heroes, everyone’s a cult hero nowadays, but there’s no really interesting kind of new music coming from that attitude. It’s a backward step.
IN: To quote Fred Smith do you think BSP are forward thinking motherfuckers?
H: That’s a Copey thing too. We like to think so. (Silence). We’re definitely motherfuckers!
IN: You flirt with past imagery a lot. And people pick up on it. Do you find it a dilemma that a lot of people will treat BSP as a kind of nostalgic Last Night of the Proms act, whereas you’re not really like that?
H: It’s true we’re always trying to prove something, but it’s never clear what we’re trying to prove. I think that’s part of our charm to a lot of people, in that what we try to do is never ended, never knowingly repeated unlike certain other bands who get on to a winner and stick with it… We’ve never hit a formula that everyone immediately understands. It’s a problem maybe.
IN: Does it worry you that your music is alien to many, but you are best known through a set of symbols?
H: People always pick on these symbols; trees, whatever and it always gets in the way of the band. It’s frustrating because we’ve always been a pretty good band, not when we started off mind, because we were like cavemen (laughs)… people should watch us play now.
We are confident enough now to not really know what’s going to happen in a gig. I think there’s a lot more satisfaction to be gained with that kind of approach, say you take a walking analogy, you’re setting out, and you have your bottle of cherry beer in your backpack and you can drink it at the beginning of your walk and it’s okay. But if you save your cherry beer, walk for a couple of days and wait till you’re on the top of the mountain and then open it, it tastes great. The journey makes it. If things come together it’s a glorious moment. And that’s like our live show.
By the end of a show we usually have a moment that’s a sort of euphoric pandemonium. And you have to get through the shit to get there. It would be nice to walk on straight away and do that. I was reading Goethe and his idea was work, work, work, and then see what happens. You can dig a hole for a couple of days and then you start to feel things you never felt before, both physically and spiritually. You have to put in the effort. It’s a very practical approach even though he was completely into the cosmic side of things…
IN: There again, you lot always struck me as people who shouldn’t really be in a band. Do you find it a wonderful accident that you are in a band at all?
H: Yeah… you can trace it back to our old man. It’s his take on life, which was isolated; though his mind was pretty much out there because he’d had a lot of strange experiences in the world. He kind of closed off and created this world where he was happy you know? That’s what he’d tell us, the world’s full of weirdos! (Laughs) And he’s proven right! Also the fact that my oldest brother’s a lot older than me and has a massive record collection... it seems in some ways that lots of other forces have come together to push us along.
IN: You’ve not bothered coming over here recently have you?
H: We’re coming over. It’s partly because no-one really wanted us! It’s more like the continent has never understood it in the same way as Britain where there are plenty of opportunities and plenty of time for people to get it. We just played and played till people got it. Whereas Europe is a different culture, and it’s a lot of effort to get us, it’s mostly a small bunch of people, normally on the intellectual side, who get it.
In Britain there are kids at most gigs who wanna get out and “have some” whereas it is more considered over here. People just stand here and look at us thinking we’re taking the piss and our approach does put people on edge! I mean we have had some good gigs in Europe, but as a whole nothing’s ever solidified over here. Hopefully it will change this time…
IN: On a slightly different track I have this rogue theory that BSP are the greatest boy band of all time, possibly the best boy band never to have shown a nipple on television. Though there was Yan’s underpant shame not too long back (on the Please Stand Up video - ed)…
H: That’s just magic mushrooms (Laughs). He didn’t know what he was doing. We are a psychedelic boy band. Definitely there’s something. There’s a big difference between each member of the band and that’s a boy band thing. Woody’s got his own little world, full of different drum beats. Nobby’s a bit more outgoing he’s into various things, he’s got a bit of balls behind him too… We just never had the ballads (collapses into laughter).
IN: Whilst I have you captive, I must ask about the legendary walk you did from Leeds to Cumbria after a gig. What drove you to say “fuck it I’m walking home”?
H: It was the end of a long period of being stuck with everyone. It’s the usual feeling I get when I go out walking, escapism, you know… just feeling dissatisfied with myself and wanting to prove something. Plus I love it out on the moors, just the idea of it, even if it’s a small thing; a physical challenge. And it’s great you know, I just prepared a few things, little bag of food, some bottles of beer, bit of MDMA (laughs) and off you go in one direction.
You don’t know where you are going to find yourself. It’s into the unknown. One night I ended up stumbling into a Yorkshire pub, in Skipton, just twenty people in there and the landlord was trying to get this karaoke going but no-one would do it, just lots of Yorkshire people taking the piss out of you singing Elvis. You just stumble into these places, places forgotten by time. Couple of pints of Timothy Taylor and off you go, join in, sing an Elvis song, and then go and find a place to settle down in your bivvy bag, sleep where you like…
I love the feeling you get when you’ve been on the moors, suddenly seeing civilisation, going down into a town and not knowing what you’ll find… Sometimes you get tricked. I was up on the moors heading towards the Lakes and I thought I saw the mountains and did a dance, but it turned out to be clouds… it’s hard realising there’s another twenty-odd miles to go…
IN: I believe you have a Jonathan Richman tribute band on the go…
H: Yeah we’re playing New Years Eve, in Brighton in the old Club Sea Power place. I’ve always loved Jonny you know, to me it’s the ultimate good time music and New Years Eve just seemed like the perfect time to do it.
IN: Are you going to turn up with your coat and guitar case and lay them on the stage?
H: Rubber guitar yeah! It’s just a group of friends who will take turns singing. If you look at the set-list everyone’s a winner! We can’t wait… dancing in the Lesbian Bar, fantastic.
Words: Richard Foster
Images: Miss Janine Warren
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